Constantine: Divine Emperor or Christian Saint?

Here is the final publication paper I wrote for my Undergraduate Ancient History degree. Perhaps a little long for a blog post, but I thought it worth posting the culmination of several years study. I hope you enjoy.


Constantine’s rule presents a unique moment in European history where the notion of one God and one faith began to toughen and harden. Within this general milieu of religious, political and social change, we see a unique problem for a Roman Emperor: how to reconcile the traditional deification of a ruler in a religious context which only allowed for one Christ King. This essay will examine this aspect of the “Christianisation” of Imperial Rome, which can be seen as a microcosm for understanding how the Empire as a whole eventually transitioned from pagan polyglot to monotheistic society.


The pulvinar was the consecrated bed, on which the images of the gods reposed. To this bed the early Roman Emperors only repaired in the long sleep of death, concious of the fate which had befallen their progenitor Julius. Recognition by the Senate as divus was a posthumous honour, termed consecratio, following a good reign. Yet divine status was not a simple all or nothing, god or man situation as a ruler could be linked with aspects of divinity. Plutarch drew a direct connection between the actions of a good king and the divine Logos. In this way, though virtuous governance a ruler could become eikōn theou (the image of God on earth).[1] Martial used a similar theme in noting that a statue of Hercules on the Appian Way had been sculpted to resemble Domitian (Imperator A.D. 81-96).[2] So taken was he by the notion of his own divinity that Domitian started insisting formal letters begin with “our lord and god commands so and so”[3] and it was not long, though perhaps driven more by fear than sycophancy, before this form of address became the custom in speech.[4]

Yet not all ancient authors were so fulsome in their recommendation that an emperor should put on not only the purple, but also the mantle of divinity. Philo of Alexandria had even gone so far as to argue that a king could never be divine in either nature or essence (physis or ousia),[5] the best for which a mortal ruler could hope was to imitate the virtues of God.[6] In this way Philo asserts[7] a ruler may be directed by orthos logos (right reason) and that there is nothing on earth more exalted than the king, yet in the end a king is still fashioned from the dust of the earth.[8] Dio Chrysostom was similarly circumspect in advising Trajan to aspire to a semi-divine status and not yield to the temptation of full divinity.[9] Pliny was equally fulsome, one is tempted to say throughly relived, following the accession of Trajan to the purple, in writing: “Nowhere should we flatter him as a divinity and a god; we are talking of a fellow citizen, not a tyrant, one who is our father not our over-lord.”[10] However, come the Antonine period all such inhibition was gone as a terminology began to emerge which connected the Emperor, his Imperial house, and all of his labours and deeds with the divine realm.[11] In such a heady atmosphere, it was almost inevitable that godlike attributions would blur the lines between the temporal imperial and spiritual divine realms to an extent that a highly competent and secure Emperor, or perhaps extremely vainglorious, would take the final step and proclaim himself a living god, born to rule.[12]

Adoratio, or prostration before a god or ruler, which had been practised by the Roman’s for some time,[13] was formalized by the Tetrarchs who began implementing a much stricter form of court ceremonial procedure. Diocletian, it seems, was responsible[14] for the enforcement of a form of adoratio purpurae, in which all attendants at court, even immediate members of his family, were required to fall to the ground before him[15] and kiss hem of his cloak.[16] Further evidence for this elevation to the divine can be seen in the work of panegyrists of the period who reflected the changing times through the employment of a language which firmly placed their rulers in a heavenly realm.[17] There were however some linguistic problems when more than one Emperor was in residence, as can be witnessed through the panegyrist of 291 who was tasked with praising Diocletian and Maximian who were both in residence at Milan.[18] Another ancient source describes the Emperor as belonging “to that class of superior gods which the chief divinity has appointed for the creation and preservation of all things… [and] is thus raised to the highest ranks of the gods by divine and eternal dispensation.”[19] Little wonder the later emperors were unwilling to go back to the former days where they acted like ordinary senators, and with this sense of separateness, practise of deification postmortem became redundant as a traditional rite.[20]

This trend toward divine status by a living emperor was altered by the accession and conversion of Constantine. Arguably the first Christian emperor,[21] Constantine subtly wrought his changes in an Empire which was still predominantly pagan. From around 324, Constantine began discouraging his Greek speaking subjects from referring to him with the partially elegiac name Sebastos.[22] Perhaps a more direct rebuttal of Constantine’s claims to divinity is to be found in Eusebius who recounts Constantine’s admonishing remarks to a bishop who had asserted that upon his death, the Emperor would rule in heaven along side the Son of God.[23] Yet even here we encounter the contradictions which are ever present the reign of Constantine. For although the Emperor chose to rebuke a bishop on this occasion, it is striking, is it not, that a senior member of the church would employ such language in the first place. However the question remains, was Constantine’s reported rebuke a mere public relations gloss for future readers, either by Eusebius or Constantine? This seems increasingly likely when this anecdote is viewed in the context of continued official sanction for the Flavian dynasty cult.[24] The situation is further complicated by the very source which was seeking to distance Constantine from any notion of personal divinity. Eusebius’ account of commemorations post the death of the Emperor suggests that officials honoured the emperor in death as they had done in life:[25] “γονυκλιεῖϛ ἠσπάζοντο.”[26] This is an intriguing turn of phrase as it could be translated as “with genuflections they kissed [the emperor]” or “with genuflections they honoured [the emperor].” If the former, it could indicate that in death, Constantine’s officials were honouring him as they had in life, by kissing the purple. MacCormack notes that postmortem honours were common among earlier emperors,[27] suggesting that Constantine retained the earlier deific Roman funereal custom.


Traditionally Jewish hope for a messiah, God’s anointed saviour,[28] had been invested in the Israelite kings. They were to be both rulers and conquerors, making footstools of the enemies of Israel.[29] Yet for such grand hopes, only one kind, David, had come anywhere near this exalted notion and subsequent generations began to turn to the future for salvation, converting the memory of David into the prototype for a messianic king to come.[30] Ezekiel took up this prophesy, following the Babylonian destruction of the temple in around 587 B.C., and predicted a second David would rule over paradise which would spring from the construction of a New Temple.[31] In a variation on the theme, Isaiah predicted this future messiah would be slaughtered like a lamb for the sins of mankind, but in doing so would bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles.[32] It did not take long for these cherished hope to take an eschatological turn in which the saviour would bring into being a new age at the end times. Perhaps influenced by this theme, Enoch takes up the refrain in speaking of a God-anointed descendent of David, who would condemn the wicked and raise the just in establishing an eternal kingdom.[33] Philo of Alexandria[34] wrote variations on this theme of kingship and presented God as the supreme king:[35] But in addition to his Jewish heritage, Philo was also Hellenic and wove into his philosophical thinking kingship and Godhead epithets of “charioteer” and “helmsman” from the Homeric age[36] and drew on the concept of the emperor and God as “saviour and benefactor.”[37]

The Christian tradition continued from this this Judeo-Hellenic starting point and consequently accords Jesus the title of king, as in Matthew 2 when the Magi came in search of “he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”[38] The earlier Jewish notion of the king bringing paradise is picked up by Luke who presents Jesus as “the Son of the Highest” who will be given “the throne of his father David,” “of his kingdom there shall be no end” and “he will be called the Son of God.”[39] Perhaps the culmination of the glory comes in Revelations in which Christ is said to bear the title “And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”[40] The denouement of the eschatological vision has Christ, now in the form of a lamb in fulfilment of Isaiah, taking His place on God’s throne as ruler of the cosmos.[41]

Perhaps what is most illuminating about the passages in Revelation, as with Luke, is that they pull in pagan rites and draw on what would have been well known aspects of the imperial cult: a golden altar, spilling of blood, purification of robes to make them white and worshippers crying out “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”[42] All of this is very reminiscent of blessings to honour the imperial family which have been found on inscriptions.[43] Yet this is not mere imitation of an existing practise, rather it is a clear attempt to subsume all previous worship into the one true faith, a feat the author of Revelation attempts by leveraging existing pagan rites while simultaneously condemning all those who worship the “image of the beast.”[44]

Though some of the textual connections between notions of Christ and kingship may be coincidental,[45] in a number of passages collections of significant terms appear which makes it unlikely the correlations could simply have been accidental.[46] In 1 Thessalonians Paul introduces the language of kingship in his discussion of Christ’s second coming to counter prevailing notions that Augustus was the saviour of mankind.[47] Yet perhaps the most striking linguistic issue in the writing of Christian theology came at around the beginning of the second century. Until that time, the names for Christ and God had been meticulously maintained in their original Hebrew forms within the Greek text of the Old and New Testaments. Now, abbreviated Greek titles came into use such as kyrios (Lord) and theos (God). Kyrios is particularly striking as it had traditionally been used as a royal title to suggest the rulers to whom it was given were divine. In this way to use the term when writing of Christ indicated not only a divine but royal status,[48] and this was a status which later Christian apologists would repeatedly turn, dipping into kingship epithets to write of Christ as “king bee,” a term drawn from extant philosophical writing about earthly kings.[49] Origen went further in weaving the connection between the kingdom on earth and the heavenly kingdom to come by drawing on 1 Peter 2:9 in which Christians are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” From this Origen concluded Christians who had driven sin from their bodies and embraced righteousness were kings in their own right. Since Christ ruled over Christians He was rightly to be called “King of kings.”[50] Lactantius continued this theme in depicting God as imperator omnium[51] and thought of Christ as a “living, immediate law” or “a teacher, like a living law.”[52] Eusebius was no less fulsome in his use of regal terminology by drawing on terms such as “all imperial,”[53] “emperor of the universe”[54] or “great emperor.”[55] Though perhaps Eusebius’ most dramatic elegiac reference to Christ came in his Ecclesiastical History in which he quotes a speech he made to the Bishop of Tyre, Paulinus, during the dedication of a cathedral in c. 315:

He the Lifegiver, the Lightbringer, our great Physician and King and Lord, the Christ of God… These things are indeed awe-inspiring and overwhelming, astonishing and amazing, and server as clear proofs that our Saviour is King.[56]

This appropriation of pagan forms didn’t stop at word association. Christian apologists even sought to pull entire works into the machine as Lactantius did when he not only sought to associate the Golden Age predicted by Virgil with the kingdom of God,[57] but went so far as to claim the poet had been a crypto-Christian.[58] Even Constantine took up the baton of appropriation in his Oration to the Assembly of the Saints, presenting a translation of Virgil’s entire poem into Greek along with a commentary on its Christian meaning.[59]

Yet this battle for the philosophical high ground was not confined to words alone. Since the early fourth century a battle had been waged through art where Christ was depicted as a philosopher or miracle worker.[60] While this isn’t that surprising given the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, what would have struck a contemporary viewer is that “Christ did not present Himself in regal attire, as the people generally imagined the founder of a mighty kingdom would do.”[61] While this artistic vision of Jesus is familiar to a modern audience, the notion of a humble king seemingly “of the people” and dressed simply would have stuck a unique chord in the ancient world. But where early Christian artists were on much more familiar ground was in the characterization of Christ as performing great deeds. Pagan philosophers had written of holy men, such as Apollonius of Tyana, and in usurping this common theme and pagan rites, as described in Revelation, Christian artists fought for command of the iconographic field.[62] The similarities between Christ and the pagan philosophers was highlighted by Lactantius who sought to demonstrate the compatibility between Christianity and contemporary thinking on monotheism. For Lactantius, the quickest route to convincing the unbelievers was to present Christ as a spiritual guide who would save humanity not through suffering on the cross, but as a a philosophical teacher.[63] In this context it is increasingly unsurprising that depictions of Christ on sarcophagi and wall paintings of the period show Him as a philosopher teaching his disciples.[64]

In an attempt to be all things to all people, multiple representations of Christ begin to spring. In some works he is shown as a boy, likely an attempt to draw on a motif, popular in Roman funerary art in the late third century, of the spiritually powerful child prodigy.[65] At other times Jesus was shown as a man with beard and long flowing hair, an iconography which became popular during the reigns of Nero and the Flavian Emperors and sought to convey not only the wisdom, but also the dignity of a charismatic philosopher.[66] Size too, it seems, mattered as early catacomb painting shows Christ in proportion to his followers, but as time passed the style changed and soon Jesus appeared larger and in an elevated position, likely picking up contemporary practise of demonstrating proximity to the gods.[67] Just as in literature we saw how Christ took on a royal visage, so too in art the distance between and elevation above His followers increased and in some works characteristics of traditional depictions of the deified emperor can be seen to denote Christ’s royal status.[68] Another way in which Christ’s kingship was displayed in art began to appear around the time of Constantine and took the form of the Magi presenting gifts to the baby Jesus. These motifs are seeking to exploit the long established iconography of oriental barbarians presenting tribute to the emperor. Any hesitation on this matter is, I think, quashed when we know that many of the earliest depictions of the presentation of gold did not take the form of coins or a casket, but of a golden wreath, the symbol of a ruler.[69]

Yet the nature of apologetics is not just to assert, but also to defend. In their writing and art Christians were not only seeking to assert their claims about Christ’s divinity and royalty, they were also trying to stem the waves of attacks which were coming from their opponents who seized upon Jesus’ miracles to claim He was merely a sorcerer, not a true sage and certainly not the Son of God.[70] Perhaps driven more by the pagan attacks than an understood theological reality, it should be remembered that at this time the Church hadn’t resolved the quandary of whether Christ was of precisely the same substance as God, Christian artists began to move away from images of Jesus as a magical figure who could perform acts of wonder, instead they chose to focus on His royal status and inherent divinity. But once such iconography was applied to Christ, who was the only son and some were saying of the same  substance as the one true God, it could no longer be used to depict emperors.[71] This created a quandary for artists of the day and we can see the iconographic turmoil being played out on wall paintings in the Empire. Christ, the Son of God, was shown seated on the globe of the universe and being received into heaven by the Father. Yet in another work the emperor was depicted bestriding the world and being received by God. How could Imperial authorities, the Church and citizens of the empire reconcile these two essentially contradictory notions, according to the now dominant Christian theology. Was it a tit for tat between Christians and pagans or was it a positive reaction toward a hitherto prevailing cult of the emperor now that Constantine had essentially liberated Christians from their bondage and become something of a Christ-like saviour?


Since the Golden Age of Augustus, the Roman state had drawn its strength through a form of government that was essentially a monarchy. In the war over hearts and minds between pagans and the monotheists of Christianity, such strength of purpose and continuity could be exploited to not only facilitate the desirability of a monarchy in heaven, they could use notions of kingship to bind an ever increasing number of converts to the new faith though the stability of one temporal ruler and one spiritual ruler.[72] Lactantius revolved this notion in his Divine Institutes[73] and Eusebius took up this theme in recounting the first Christian to be martyred during the persecutions by Diocletian. Perhaps what is most interesting about this case is that in refusing to sacrifice to the gods and pour a libation to the four emperors, Procopius is said to have quoted Odysseus’ thoughts on monarchy: “The lordship of many is no good thing; let there be one lord, one king.”[74] While on the face of it this simply seems to be an assertion of the heavenly monotheism of Christianity by Procopius, it is also, when taken in the context of the four emperors, a blow against the secular Tetrarchic government. In this way it was not merely an expression of faith, but an act of sedition against the state.[75] However Eusebius also inverted the logic of Lactantius by arguing that because there is a monarchy in heaven there ought to be one on earth.[76]

Monarchy excels all other kinds of constitution and government. For rather do anarchy and civil war the alternative, a polyarchy based on equality. For which reason there is One God, not two or three or even more. For strictly speaking, belief in many gods is godless. There is on Sovereign and His Logos and royal law is one, not expressed in words of syllables nor eroded by time in books or tables, but the living and actual God the Logos, who directs His Father’s kingdom for all those under and beneath Him.[77]

The triumvirate of logic was completed when Constantine himself launched into the fray in this Oration to the Assembly of the Saints:

if there were not one but many authorities over these innumerable things, there would be share-outs and divisions of elements and [things told in] ancient myths; envy and avarice, dominating according to their power, would mar the harmonious concord of the whole… The Word is himself God and the child of God.[78]

The importance of this development is hard to overstate. Beginning with Lactantius’ bottom to top use of kingship to assert the notion of a monarchy in heaven, moving through Eusebius’ top down approach claiming a king on earth reflected the future kingdom to the Emperor’s adoption of one king and one God, we have a philosophical march from fringe cult to central religion of the empire. Yet this still left an area of doubt, for although applying to Christ attributes of the divine emperor created a mode of understanding Jesus which would resonate with a broader base of citizens, it also left in place a tradition of imperial divinity in which an emperor could be compared too, and even equated with, Christ. The situation was not exactly helped by one of the dominant voices which echoes from this period. To understand why Eusebius doesn’t give the clarity we may have expected, that Constantine is subordinate to Christ who is one with God, we need to delve a little into Eusebius’ own theology.

As we have seen, Eusebius subscribed to the long-established view that a good king ought to try and replicate the presumed heavenly monarchy on earth. This, not unsurprisingly, lead to the comparison that if the Roman Empire was akin to the heavenly realm then Constantine must be akin to Christ as like Jesus, Constantine was God’s representative on earth.[79] Am am compelled toward this argument as I think Van Dam’s argument is persuasive in positing that despite signing-up to the Nicene Creed, Eusebius remained committed to the view that Christ was different from and subordinate to God the Father. By advancing the case for a resemblance between Christ and a mortal ruler, Eusebius was able to keep the flame of his subordinationist views ablaze.[80] Eusebius seems to envisage God working His will through a heavenly and a temporal power, both of whom are named His hyparchos.[81] Although Eusebius never explicitly names Him, it is clear the hyparchos in heaven is Christ, while the hyparchos on earth is Constantine. [82] But it is here we see an important break from one of the traditions of kingship. According to Plutarch, a good king had a direct connection with the divine Logos. In this way, though virtuous governance a ruler could become eikōn theou (the image of God on earth).[83] If this were true of Constantine, he would be Christ incarnate. Although Eusebius’ reverence of Constantine bordered on that level of feeling:

having been furnished by God with natural virtues and having received in his soul the emanations from that place. His ability to reason has come from the Universal Logos, his wisdom from communion with Wisdom, goodness from contact with the Good, and justness from his association with Justice. He is prudent in the ideal of Prudence, and from sharing in the Highest Power has he courage. For he who would bear the title of sovereign with true reason has patterned regal virtues in his soul after the model of that distant kingdom.[84]

He clearly rejected the notion that Constantine was divine:

Far from thinking his present state comparable to that of the All-Ruling God, he [Constantine] is aware that the mortal and perishable state is like a river, ever-glowing and vanishing. And so he longs for the incorruptible and spiritual kingdom of God, and he prays to come into it.[85]

The question now is to what extent was Eusebius, and the Christian church in general, shaped by Constantine, the supreme ruler of the Empire. In other words, is the legacy of Constantine which comes down to us a product of the times, or were the times a product of the man?

Plato and Aristotle asserted that government should be entrusted to the “best man” who, because of his works and deeds, would be akin to a god.[86] Isocrates took up this theme and had written to Philip, father of Alexander the Great, that he should imitate Hercules who was rewarded with divinity in return for his labours.[87] Given the nature of the existing cult of the Emperor, and the desire of peoples in the East to worship living Roman politicians and generals, it isn’t outside the realm of probability that Constantine, have re-united the Empire, entertained the notion that his deeds made him a worthy object of veneration,[88] there is even evidence to suggest Constantine deliberately imitated Christ.[89] At the risk of putting Constantine on the psychologists couch it could be argued that the desire to achieve religious unity not just within the Christian Church but the Empire as a whole, arguably the world as it was known, was something of a messianic objective.[90]


Ultimately the deciding influence over Constantine’s eventual memory as divinity or saint was not so much the actions of his life, but the mode of his death – or more precisely Eusebius’ description of it – as nothing remains of the funerary complex Constantine had constructed and even its former position is a matter of scholarly debate. Eusebius tells us:

He therefore gave instructions for services to be held there, setting up a central altar. So he erected (egeiras) twelve repositories (thēkai) like sacred monuments (stēlai hierai) in honour and memory of the company of the Apostles, and put his own coffin (autos autou larnaka) in the middle, on either side of which six [coggins] of the Apostles were vertically disposed (ana… diekeinto).[91]

Regrettably Francis Dvornik rejects[92] this account as a fictional interpolator introduced into the text and the weight of such a leviathan of Constantinian research against, along with the uncertainty introduced by the language of the passage, should give pause for thought. However, to my mind it isn’t a fictional account, rather a scribal error, as if the words thēkai and stēlai were transposed then a corrected version of the text would read “So he erected twelve columns (stēlai) like sacred repositories (thēkai hierai) in honour and memory of the company of Apostles.” There are scriptural grounds to support this re-reading of Eusebius as both James, Peter and John are compared to stēlai in the New Testament.[93] Further strength is leant to this argument when we recall that Eusebius refers to the Apostles as columns in the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre to the Apostles.[94] If this argument is considered a bit of a long row and we accept Eusebius’ text as unaltered, sense may still be made of the passage as to compare a casket[95] with a gravestone or marker in a funerary context is practical. This reading I think to be confirmed if emphasis is placed on egeiras and ana… diekeinto, as they clearly express stēlai  as vertical.[96] Whatever the form of the building or the minutiae of the internal space, all accounts have a central theme: Constantine. Clearly the layout was intended to present the Emperor in the context of the Apostles, what remains to be seen is his perceived meaning in that context.

At the end of the fourth century, John Chrysostom wrote that the emperors were “no longer near the Apostles, but are satisfied to bury their bodies outside at the porch. And so the emperors have now become the doorkeepers of the fishermen.”[97] Chrysostom argued critically against the notion of men, such as Alexander the Great, being elevated to the level of gods[98] as such men had not been able to restore their kingdom after death. Rather, they should be seen as subordinate to Christ and even to his Apostles. But perhaps what most intrigues about Chrysostom’s words is his calling the final resting place a porch. Surely for Constantine, placed at the centre of a Mausoleum and surrounded by the thēkai  of the Apostles, the Emperor was not playing doorman to the followers of Christ. Rather this change in his theological position is due to the work of his son, Constantius, who made alterations to the burial arrangements in the face of growing church strength and powerful internal divisions within Christianity. In removing the thēkai  and other relics from the vicinity of the imperial tomb, Constantius had calmed a troubled situation by dissociating the theological issue of the Son’s relationship to the Father with the philosophical issue of the emperors relationship to god. Now a clear temporal, not to mention architectural, divide existed between the mausoleum of a ruler and the church of God – the first instance in a Christian setting if you will of a separation of Church and State. Yet like much of his father’s reign, Constantius’ alterations trod a careful middle ground as there was scope for both sides of the Pagan-Christian divide. The close relationship between the mausoleum and the church gave those Christians who still clung to notions of imperial divinity, a sense of Constantine as analogous to the returned Christ, and scope to worship him as a god descended to earth in mortal form. However the physical separation of the thēkai of the Apostles from the resting place of the emperor probably achieved its purpose and dissuaded such practise leaving Constantine to be remembered as a blessed saint instead of a divinity.[99]



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Kelly, C. 1998: ‘Emperors, Government and Bureaucracy’. In CAH XIII: The Late Empire, A.D. 337-425. Edited by Averil Cameron, Peter Garnsey. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 138-83.

Leadbetter, W. 2006: ‘A Byzantine Narrative of the Future and the Antecedents of the Last World Emperor’. In Byzantine Narrative: Papers in Honour of Roger Scott. Edited by John Burke, Ursula Betka et al. Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine       Studies, 2006

MacCormack, Sabine 1981: Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mathews, Thomas F. 1999: The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Meggitt, J. 2002: ‘Taking the Emperor’s Clothes Seriously: The New Testament and the Roman Emperor’, The Quest for Wisdom: Essays in Honour of Philip Budd. Edited by Christine E. Joynes. Cambridge: Orchard Academic.

Moles, J. 1990: ‘The Kingship Orations of Dio Chrysostom’. In Roman Poetry and Drama, Greek Epic, Comedy, Rhetoric. Edited by Francis Cairns and Malcolm Heath. Leeds: Francis Cairns.

Nixon, C.E.V., Rodgers, Barbara Saylor 1994: In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini: Introduction, Translation, and Historical Commentary, with the Latin Text Of R.A.B. Mynors. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Price, Simon 1984: Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge;   New York: Cambridge University Press.
―, 1987: ‘From Noble Funerals to Divine Cult: The Consecration of Roman       Emperors’. In Rituals Of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies. Edited by David Cannadine and Simon Price. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rees, Roger 2002: Layers of Loyalty in Latin Panegyric, AD 289-307. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Salway, Bene 2007: ‘Constantine Augoustos (not Sebastos)’. In Wolf Liebeschuetz Reflected: Essays Presented By Colleagues, Friends, & Pupils. Edited by John Drinkwater & Benet Salway. London: Institute of Classical Studies.

Smith, R. 2007: ‘The Imperial Court of the Late Roman Empire, c. AD 300-c. AD 450’. In The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies, edited by A. J. S. Spawforth. Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press.

Van Dam, Raymond 2003: ‘The Many Conversions of the Emperor Constantine’. In Conversion in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Seeing and Believing. Edited by Kenneth Mills and Anthony Grafton. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester   Press; Suffolk, UK : Boydell & Brewer, 2003.
―, 2007: The Roman Revolution of Constantine. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Weinstock Stefan 1957: “Victor and Invictus”. In HThR 50, 211 – 247

Whitmarsh, Tim 2001: Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilken, Robert Louis 2003: The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Zanker, Paul 1995: Maske des Sokrates. Translated by Alan Shapiro. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.


[1] Plut. Ad Princ. 780e-781a.
[2]  Mart. 9.64-65. Martial then plumbed the depths of sycophancy by asserting that Domitian’s achievements had so surpassed those of Hercules that the emperors’ visage should not have been cast on a mere demigod, but on Hercules’ father Jupiter: Herculeum tantis numen non sufficit actis: Tarpeio deus hic commodet ora patri. Mart. 9.101.
[3]  Suet. Dom. 13.2. “dominus et deus noster hoc fieri iubet
[4]  Brent 1999: 169-77.
[5]  Philo, Embassy, 114.
[6]  Philo, Laws, 4. 186-88. “[kings] ought to wish to conduct themselves in everything for the best, and the best is to use all their energies to assist people and not to injure them; for this is to act in imitation of God, since He also has the power to do either good or evil, but His inclination causes Him only to do good…. Therefore it is right for good rulers of a nation to imitate Him in these points, if they have any anxiety to attain to a similitude to God.”
[7]  For a detailed analysis of Philos philosophy of Kingship see Goodenough 1938: 86-120.
[8]  Philo, Embassy, 81, 98, 114.
[9]  Moles 1990: 330-31; Whitmarsh 2001: 214.
[10] Pliny, Pan. 2.3. “Nec vero ego in laudibus tuis ponam, quod adventum tuum non pater quisquam, non maritus expavit
[11] Deissmann 1927: 351-2; Nixon and Rodgers 1994: 51-52, 53 n. 1; Canepa 2009: 100.
[12] Deus et dominus natus is to be found on the coins minted for the Emperor Aurelian. See RIC V.I, Aurelian nos. 305-6.
[13] For an in-depth treatment of the subject and relevant sources see Avery 1940: 69-71.
[14] “Primus Diocletianus adorari se ut deum jussit, et gemmas vestibus calceamentisque inseri,” Jerome, Chron. 2312.
[15] Procop. Pers. 2.9.
[16] “Although no ancient reference to the actual kissing of the purple has been found, it is evident that such must have been the custom for the following reasons:(1) the mere act of taking the purple in the hand would certainly not have been considered an act of veneration; (2) the original idea of proskynesis included both obeisance and kissing, Avery 1940: p. 67 n. 15; see also Smith 2007: 172-73, 176, 214-16.
[17] Rees 2002: 186-87.
[18] In this instance the writer got around the linguistic problem by referring to “geminato numine” (twin deities) and describes the worship of the Emperors as though it were taking place in the inner shrine of a temple (vlut interioribus sacariis) Pan. Lat. XI.11.1-3.
[19] “etiam ipse in eorum deorum numero constitutus est, quos ad facienda et conservanda omnia divinitas statuit principalis… divini numinis et inmortalis sortitus licentiae potestatem in principalibus deorum ordinibus collocatur.” Materni. Math. 2.30.5-6.
[20] Price 1987: 98-99.
[21] There is much debate on Constantine’s “conversion”, a word which I find highly inappropriate given the context as Constantine’s religious experience was nothing like what we would today term a conversion. In this regard I follow the argument of MacCulloch 2010: 190-215, 291-93. For an even more detailed study see Baynes 1981.
[22] Benet Salway has pointed out, this seems to be because Sebastos was not merely the Greek translation of Augustus, but the honorific used in the cult of the Emperor. Salway 2007: 37-50.
[23] “These words, however, Constantine heard with indignation, and forbade the speaker to hold such language, exhorting him rather to pray earnestly on his behalf, that whether in this life or in that which is to come, he might be found worthy to be a servant of God.”
[24] Dvornik 1966: 654-55.
[25] For Eusebius’ enigmatic comment about divine honours bestowed upon Constantine during his life see Eusebius, Life. 1.9.
[26] Eusebius, Life. 4.67.1.
[27] MacCormack 1981: 117-18.
[28] Psalms, 2:7; 45:7, 11.
[29] Psalms, 110:1.
[30] Beskow 1962: 123-27; Dvornik 1966: 314, 318-19.
[31] Ezekiel 40:1-47:5; 47:6-12; Dvornik 1966: 314, 323-24.
[32] Isaiah 53; Dvornik 1966: 339-47.
[33] Enoch 45:3; 46; 48:2; 51:4-10; 55; 61:10-18; 62:15; 68:38-41; Dvornik 1966: 314, 368-78; Beskow 1962: 127-28.
[34] “Now for a king there is no fitter name than father, for what the father in family life is to the children the king is to the state and God is to the world, — God who under the immutable laws of nature has joined in indissoluble union two things most excellent, governorship and guardianship.” Philo, On Providence 2.3.
[35] Goodenough 1935, 39-40; Beskow 1962, 189-90 discusses Pythagorean and Stoic concepts in the writing of Philo.
[36] Beskow 1962: 200-8.
[37] Beskow 1962: 210-11.
[38] Matthew 2:2.
[39] Luke 1:32-35.
[40] Revelation 19:16.
[41] Revelation 22:1-3.
[42] Revelation 7:9-10.
[43] Brent 1999: 200-1, 205-8.
[44] Revelation 13:15; Brent 1999: 196-97.
[45] Meggitt 2002: 156-57.
[46] “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;… But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared.” Titus 2:11-13; 3:4.
[47] On the notion that the Pax Augusta suggested that the virtue of peace was incarnate in Augustus and his rule represented the beginning of a Golden Age see Brent 1999: 60-66.
[48] Howard 1977; Beskow 1962: 45-61; Dvornik 1966: 591-94.
[49] Dvornik 1966: 600-5.
[50] Beskow 1962: 219-30.
[51] Lac. DI. 5.19.25, 6.8.12, 7.27.15; on the problems associated with determining if the term has an imperial or military meaning see Beskow 1962: 182-84.
[52] Lac. DI. 4.17.7, 4.25.2.
[53] Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine. 3.3.
[54] Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine. 5.2.
[55] Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine. 15.2.
[56] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 10.4.
[57] Benko 1980: 670-71.
[58] Lac. DI. 7.24.
[59] Constantine, Oration to the Assembly of the Saints, 19-21; for a modern commentary on Constantine’s use of Virgil see Benko 1980: 671-72.
[60] Jensen 2000: 45-46 (as philosopher), 120-24 (as miracle worker). When shown as miracle worker during this time, Christ was often shown with a magic wand, an iconography which didn’t die out until the fifth century.
[61] Dvornik 1966: 428.
[62] Zanker 1995: 297.
[63] Digeser  2000: 74-78.
[64] Zanker 1995: 292-97.
[65] Zanker 1995: 276-77, 290-92.
[66] Zanker 1995: 297-304.
[67] Zanker 1995: 304-5, 307-31.
[68] Beskow 1962: 12-13, 22-25; Jensen 2000: 94-103.
[69] Deckers 2007: 105. Although the view on the kingly  significance is refuted by Mathews 1999: 80-86.
[70] Barnes 1981: 164-66; Mathews 1999: 67-68; Wilken 2003: 159-60.
[71] MacCormack 1981: 129-31.
[72] Digeser 2000: 40-45.
[73] “If the world were to be shared between more than one king, then each will certainly have a lesser portion of its wealth and strength, since each will abide within the bounds of his allotted share. In like fashion, if there were more than one god, they will all have less power, since the others will have only so much for themselves. Virtue in its perfection is sooner to be found in totality then in some small fraction of totality. If God is perfect, as he has to be, he cannot be so unless he is one, so that everything can be within him.” Lac. DI. 1.3.6-7.
[74] Eusebius, Martyrs of Palestine 1.1-4.
[75] De Ste. Croix 2006: 43; Barnes 1981: 150-51; Van Dam 2007: 355.
[76] Beskow 1962: 263-68.
[77] Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine. 6.8.
[78] Constantine, Oration to the Assembly of the Saints, 3, 9.4.
[79] Kelly 1998: 140; Dvornik 1966: 614-22.
[80] Van Dam 2003: 141-44; Van Dam 2007: 311-12.
[81] Goodenough 1935: 39.
[82] Drake 1976: 57; Drake 2000; 529 n. 98.
[83] Plut. Ad Princ. 780e-781a.
[84] Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine. 5.1-2.
[85] Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine. 5.5.
[86] Dvornik 1966: 177-87.
[87] Isocrates, To Philip, 111-15.
[88] Price 1984: 26-35, 51-52; Fishwick 1987-2005: vol. 1, 9-11.
[89] Eusebius, Life. 4.62.1-2; for general comments on on Constantine’s Jesus complex see Van Dam 2003: 140.
[90] Beskow 1962: 97.
[91] Eusebius, Life. 4.60.3.
[92] Dvornik 1966: 758-59, with n. 147.
[93] Galatians 2:9. “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”
[94] Eusebius, Life. 3.38. “This was encircled by twelve columns (according to the number of the apostles of our Saviour)”
[95] Further reason to believe that casket was meant could be drawn from the arrival in Constantinople in 336 of relics of the Apostle Andrew and the Evangelist Luke. Procopius, Buildings, 1.4.9-24; Burgess 2003: 24-28. For a discussion of the sources which claim the relics arrive in 357 see Burgess 2003: 5, n. 2.
[96] There is also the text of Procopius from the sixth century in which he uses larnakes and thēkai essentially interchangeably in describing the tombs of the emperors. Procopius, Buildings, 1.4.19.
[97] John Chrysostom, Adversus Judaeos et Gentiles Demonstratio 9; see also Dvornik 1966: 760-62.
[98] For arguments about the status of Alexanders deification, was he the thirteenth god or an invincible god, see Weinstock 1957, 235, n. 143.
[99] Van Dam 2007: 317-53.

The City of Love

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist.” – Stephen Hawking

There is an old adage, the more we have the more we can give. This is true of temporal things as I can’t give money if I have no money, I can’t give time if I have no time, I can’t give of a skill set I don’t possess, but it is also true of spiritual things. If I have no love in me I can’t give love out. If I have no emotional energy in me, I can’t give emotional energy out.

From this it naturally follows that I can’t love another unless I love myself. Not a vain self-love, but an inner belief in my own intrinsic worth. This sense of self can only be truly strong if it emanates from within, or as Stephen Fry once quipped: “you can’t suck it off another’s tits, it has to lactate in your own.”

But here is a dangerous fork in the road, if my sense of self-worth grows disproportionate I may run the risk of becoming a self-made man who believes in his creator. Or perhaps in a lesser form of apotheosis, a person who values his love and energy so highly that he fears rejection to the point of never placing himself on the starting line of life. Always living within a “safe” boundary which, far from contributing to inner strength, provides a false sense of security. Without a true test, without a genuine load on the heart or a positive outlet for energy a person simply isn’t “match fit”. It is the emotional equivalent of someone watching the world’s strongest man competition and thinking they could dead-lift a thousand pounds at will without the intermediate training require. The old “I could do it, I just choose not to.”

This is not to say that I should leap into any and every relationship which is on offer. Contrary to a belief which I often hear spouted, simply because two people are single does not mean they are well suited. But what makes for a good match? Certainly sexual chemistry is key. If that box is ticked then what is clear from the great partnerships is they are built, not beamed down from heaven in a golden chariot. Forged in the quotidian, day to day, not a miracle beyond control. Some questions which seem to come up time and again when talking to people in passionate loving relationships:

  • Are they a genuine help mate or just someone your heart tells you is your ideal?
  • Are they capable of giving to the relationship as much as they receive from it?
  • Do they have the introspection to see their own faults and the failings of their own arguments?
  • Are they as willing to be changed as much as they are keen to be the agent of change?

In short, self-awareness takes over from self-love as the key driver to building a great relationship for while self-love will get you to the starting block, give you the confidence to test the waters, it can, and I have often seen will, prevent a lasting relationship from forming because it creates a pseudo ideal. A wall which a potential mate must vault in a single bound to prove they are the one. But if the wall is built ever taller the higher a person knows someone can leap, it becomes a wall no one will ever successfully clear.

The romantics out there may see this as depressing, or rage against it as callus, cruel and untrue. But I too am a romantic, and it is because of this I don’t see hopelessness and despair in such a truth, rather it fills me with the hope of a long, lasting, rewarding and fulfilling relationship: triggered by chemistry, formed in friendship and sustained and made permanent though a desire to work each and every day to make the partnership stronger.

But how can I think that you may say? How can my heart be romantic if it holds to a truth of Love which is mundane, even workmanlike? Because of the people I know who are in long and lasting relationships. Because their lives together are forged and sustained by a day to day desire to care for their own heart, to cherish their partners soul and to do what it takes to ensure both have a happy and fulfilled life together. If they had had an overdeveloped self-love, a notion of self which doesn’t accommodate or shape and change in rhythm with the beating of their soulmates heart, the frictions of toilet seats up, anniversaries forgotten, an “I love you” once not said, would have fractured the partnership.

In many cases this was only achieved after what a pilot would term control reversal. This is a situation in which flight controls act in the reverse manner to their design. If a pilot is unaware of the situation, their instinct will actually cause a crash, not avert one. Sometimes relationships function in this way. We adopt a pattern to help us through a difficult situation in our lives, but the crutch to ease the pain becomes a new way of walking which in time feels “right”. To all the world we are hobbling along, but from our perspective it is the very best method of walking. Our heart can be crippled in just such a manner. We surround ourselves with words and things which reinforce our inner most desire, but because of the disjointed nature of our walk we will be unable to keep up or even make the distance to the life we want. Gradually this turns into a narrative that a situation isn’t right, or if it feels good, just wasn’t meant to be. But like a pilots control reversal it can just be a case of challenging our intuitive knowledge, running toward not from a situation and accepting the possibility that our heart and self-love might be leading us away from the future we so ardently desire. As Doug Hastings put it in Strictly Ballroom:

“We had the chance but we were scared. We walked away. We lived our lives in fear!”

For those who do not live their lives in fear, who do make the distance, do convert chemistry into a lasting partnership, it is often a result of their capacity to look beyond a perfect ideal, their desire to forge a lasting relationship, their ability to synchronise their breathing with their partners. In short, it is because instead of making up their mind something was not right and hardening their heart further, they chose to allow the walls which they had erected to slowly melt away; after which a glorious city of love was revealed.

Please press play…

Alexander’s Invasion of Persia

“It is one of the paradoxes of history (and of historiography) that this king… should have been handed down finally in history as an enigma.” “Indeed, there is no figure about whom more writers are more at variance.” Yet what is so surprising about the fog which surrounds the myth and man who was Alexander is it need not have happened, for the Great King had set the precedent of appointing an official historian, Kallisthenes, and invested much time and energy in the dissemination of his image throughout his empire. Yet an unfortunate combination of non-surviving contemporary literary sources, few surviving official and unofficial records, and the immense effusion of myth, legend, lies and fact which surround so great a figure as Alexander, leaves the modern historian with a sea of contradictions through which a navigable path to the shores of fact is often hard to find. Yet among the flotsam and jetsam is some lagan, such as the works of Lucius Flavius Arrianus Xenophon, more commonly known as Arrian. Yet even this inestimable source for the life of Alexander warns against attempts to drag the god back down to earth for mortal judgement. With such sentiment resonating from the ancient world it is little wonder, at the remove of more than two millennia, we are unable to be sure how Kallisthenes died in 327 nor why Alexander visited the shrine of Ammon in 332. Within this context, placing Alexander’s motivation for the invasion of Persia is difficult at best.

One of our best ancient sources, Arrian, gives his method for piecing together the historical record at the start of his Anabasis Alexandrou. Wherever histories of Alexander concur they are recorded as true. Where they differ the more plausible should be selected. It is not uncommon for students of history to read this passage and, with the approbation of their own professor ringing in their ears regarding their use of the historic record, leap to the conclusion this Arrian fellow had a slap dash approach to history and take an ever increasing amount of salt with their reading of the Anabasis. I would argue this is to misunderstand the nature of history and to do a disservice to an ancient scholar. If history teaches us one thing, it is just how uncertain the historic record can be. As a result historians are always balancing what is recorded against what they believe is probable about the life or events concerned. As a result I think we can have greater faith in a historian of the ancient world who is aware of the difficulties posed by the historical record and cognisant of his own bias* than we can of another writer who delivers their entire work as though it were produced without fear or favor.

Looking to Alexander’s motives for his invasion of Persia, the first which strikes us is heredity. Plutarch asserts, so dark was the shadow Philip cast over the young Alexander that the boy would despair there would be nothing important left to conquer. Following his father Philip’s assassination, Alexander not only inherited the throne of Macedon but also hegemon of the League of Corinth and with it leadership of the Persian campaign.** In this sense Alexander was continuing a work already begun by his father while also wanting to prove his own mettle in the crucible of war. Though circumstantial, I would also argue that Alexander’s route of conquest, described by Arrian, neatly retraces the path Xerxes took during his invasion of Greece in 480 and echoes a sentiment of revenge for the events of the earlier Persian war.

Finance too played a role to let slip the dogs of war. As Cicero was later to write: “Great sums of money are the sinews of war.” While Arrian suggests that Alexander began his reign heavily in debt, it should be remembered that Alexander’s relative poverty provided the ideal “rags to riches” story that ancient writers, as concerned with morality tales as they were with history, would have readily embellished. Yet while Alexander was not, perhaps, as poverty stricken as some ancient authors make out, it is clear he did begin his reign with some financial difficulties, in part due to Philip’s poor management of the Macedonian resources that had allowed him to acquire a standing army in the first place. In much the same way militarism in other centuries has proved a catalyst for war, the necessity to maintain the standing army as a power base proved a powerful motivator for a young king who was keen to expand using the vast wealth of the Persian empire. This ties in with the warrior ethos, which Alexander seemed to exude in spades. Arrian expresses Alexander as being filled with a desire for endless conquest. N. G. L. Hammond, citing Diodorus Siculus, takes Alexander’s thirst for conquest a stage further arguing Alexander actually aimed to conquer the whole world, in which the Persian campaign simply becomes a stepping stone to further glory. But I think this takes a line of thought, most likely a post Alexandrian construct, and places more emphasis on the situation than our explicit sources can truly support. Rather I suspect Alexander was simply a bellicose genius, initially hard pressed militarily to maintain his hegemon and stricken with a wanderlust. Driven by a need to give a fragmented Hellenic world, shattered by the Persian invasion, a sense of unity and purpose who ranged far and wide not to conquer the whole world, but simply to conquer what lay over the hill.

* I understand this is a very simplistic discussion of the source material concerned, but the scope of this article prevents an expansion on the theme to look at problems in the Anabasis such as Arrian’s acceptance of Ptolemy’s account because as a king it would have been unbecoming for Ptolemy to lie (Arr. preface).

** Though not within the scope of this article, it should be noted here that Alexander’s ascension to head of the League of Corinth was not uncontested. Though barely mentioned by Arrian (2.13.4-6) it is documented in the other ancient sources as a great trial for the young king (Diod. 17.62-3; Curt. 6.1; Just. 21.1). Even after his triumph Alexander was always having to keep a close eye on the home front while fighting abroad and the uneasy situation never allowed Alexander to fully trust his Greek allies or even his Macedonian court.

‘God is dead’

I know I know… you don’t need to shout it I am not so superannuated that I am deaf to your cries. Months I can hear you say, without so much as a drunken ramble or intellectual fart on this blog and then in my first two words I have blasphemed, thereby offending the bulk of the worlds population and sending that little man at the end of my road into an apoplectic spin as he lurches between picketing my drive with signs predicting hell fire will rain down on Sydney and taking matters into his own hands and immolating me on the spot, in an attempt to save mankind. The atheists among you, or those would be atheists who are too timid to actually commit to this belief for fear of social ostracism, are probably chortling into your cups.

Of course, what most of you have done is what we all do when faced with language. You have taken a word, in this case God, wrapped it in meaning, in this case a term denoting an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being, and formed two basic factions: those for God and those against. You have also felt a surge of passion course through your veins. Perhaps anger at taking the Lords name in vain. Perhaps curious interest in what on the face of it is another attack on an imaginarily being. Perhaps boredom at yet another pseudo-scholarly twazzok desperately trying to demonstrate his intellectual superiority by discussing a topic in which he can use words like immolate and omniscient. The first two passions I shall come to in a moment, as for the third… what can one say other than a writer who never sends readers to the dictionary is like a painter who only uses primary colours. The result, a work which lacks light and shade.

But I seem to be nesting into sub arguments, so where was I… ahh that’s right, ‘God is dead’. The more observant of you, and persistent for getting this far without clicking on an add for some new diet pill or an Oedipus syndrome compensator, will have seen ‘God is dead’ as a reference to Nietzsche; whose great pronouncement struck a raw nerve when The Gay Science was published in 1882. Given that God is being put full frame almost everywhere you look, even atheists seem to talk, write and think of little else, it would seem Nietzsche missed his mark.

All in all modern times present a striking FU stance to anyone who claims we are living in a secular age. Oh yes, people will wave the latest statistics in my face showing a decline in church attendance, but that only shows a disenchantment, even resentment, toward organized religion not with the concept of God.  So much so that science, once the bastion of heretical, godless and generally profane thinkers, has taken to name the particle which binds all life: the God Particle.

To be fair, most serious scientists are not calling it the God Particle. They term it the ‘Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble mechanism’ or Higgs boson for short. This is a hypothetical massive scalar elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. The existence of the particle is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in current theoretical physics, and attempts are being made to confirm the existence of the particle by experimentation, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab: or so the science journals tell me.

It is through the study of such physics that Stephen Hawking, taking an alternate tack it should be remembered from his 1988 analysis A Breif History of Time, can argue in his latest book The Grand Design: ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing… spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.’ Hawking went on to write ‘philosophy is dead’. This suggests an inexorable march away from prophets and God at one end of the spectrum, through to the philosophers and Nietzsche asserting that ‘God is dead’, to the scientists and Hawking affirming that ‘philosophy is dead’. Though I sense that just as Nietzsche missed the mark with God, Hawking has missed the mark with philosophy.

What does all this mean for you and me, those of the laity who do not worship at the altar of science or religion? It means, in short, that the farther the great thinkers travel the more it comes down to our personal choice. The prophets who halted after the first step, accepting a divine cause for everything are in no better position today to prove the existence of a divine creator than the skeptics, who have theoretically travelled to the outer limits of the universe, can prove there is no God. Perhaps this is as well, for it illuminates the way to the meaning of life: the meaning is our meaning. Things matter because they matter to us. Our life has purpose because we believe it does.  It is not so much something which can be proved, it is simply accepted. For no amount of success can make us feel content, nor any level of failure can cause us to give up hope if we choose to feel otherwise.

Age, Evil And A Better World

Age hit me the other day. To be precise it hit my right hamstring. It was cold and I got up too quickly. These were the words of old men, who I have mocked remorselessly over the years, coming from the mouth of a babe (here I mean it in the child sense); or one who use to be a babe. Now age gnaws at me in winter, an ever present reminder that after the heady immortality of youth, I grow old and wither on the vine.

Yet there are several great upsides to this changing of seasons. I get to wear tweed, spend a quiet night at home with a port and a good book, shunning the strobe lights and shoddy DJ’ing at the local club. I also have the privilege and delight of making comments like ‘for those of you old enough to remember…’. Or in the more jocular words of the inimitable Stephen Fry: ‘for those of my age, weight and shoe size’. Thankfully weight has not yet become an issue. Lamentably my weight remains as constant and low as my bank account. But I seem to be nesting in a sub argument. So let us return to age and its upside, remembrance.

Simon Schama wrote ‘history is a living instruction, or it is nothing. Not a spare time luxury, but a requirement of informed citizenship’. History, both recent and ancient, holds the key to who we are and is a powerful tool to explain why. Throughout the narrative of our world, there is the ever present aspect of evil. Evil has taken many shapes and many forms in its long and ignoble history. My father knows its most recent history well and fought it during the Second World War, when the hordes of Nazi ideology ran over the face of the earth. He, and millions like him, fought to make a ‘better’ world. But when he sees the massacre of civilians in ongoing wars, the bombing of markets and state sanctioned genocides, he does wonder if it made that much of a difference. But when he sees headlines like ‘5 Things Apple Must Do to Look Less Evil’ he knows it did make a difference.

That some people believe they are under oppressive censorship because their news app is at the mercy of ‘notoriously temperamental App Store reviewers’ it is a better world. For many censorship is being dragged from their home in the middle of the night and beaten to death.

That some believe the biggest problem is that App store rules are not published, causing developers to censor themselves, hurting innovation and generating conformity, it is a better world. For some unpublished rules make their very existence a crime. See police take them to a place of execution or force them to languish in prison for nothing more than having been brought into this world.

Life is far from perfect. But for some of us it is a far, far better place than it ever has been. We have the wonders of medical science to improve our physical being. We have nearly unbridled access to other peoples thoughts, lifting our consciousness to new heights. For some of us it is an amazing place. And if some of us labored as ceaselessly toward helping the lives of others as we spend complaining about our own lot. If we took as much responsibility as we do care. If we realized we are given gifts and resources not just for our own enrichment, but so that we have the power to help others. We stand a chance of creating a better world for all, not just for some.

In the final analysis does it matter if Apple is less ‘evil’ in the greater context of the world? For me it does, because it shows that in some sunny corner of the globe, triviality has vanquished genuine suffering. In such places it is a better world.

Is this what Warhol meant?

In 1968 the doyen of pop art, Andy Warhol, said: ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ Broadly speaking there are two ways this statement can be read. That fame is fleeting or that everyone will get a piece of it. The rise of MyFace and SpaceTube seems to shift the emphasis to the everyone, as herds of individuals flock to sites so they can show the world just how many Mentos (or should that be Mentos’) they can shove up their nose. Where the prophecy breaks down is that the fame is not fleeting, far from it. The net makes permanent what should have long since faded from memory as a vaguely amusing party trick.

Make no mistake, that photo you edited last week of your mate, sticking his head on the torso of a porno star, thereby making him dance inappropriately with a goat, will float around cyberspace for eternity. While it is funny for your close circle of friends, it is less funny when his boss hops online to poke his wife (behave) and sees the image pop up in his ‘news feed’. Or maybe that is the amusing part of the joke, that people who don’t know the inside story get to laugh at someone else’s misfortune? It certainly seems to be if the popularity of ‘Funniest Home Videos’ or ‘Celebrity Truck Stop Pees’ is anything to go by. Joseph Conrad put his finger on this type of material when he wrote it was ‘Invariably written by fools for the reading of imbeciles’.

Where this type of celebrity breaks down is when the focus stops being someone else and starts being you. It does not take a bevy of underfunded university students or the stupefying weight of the Bureau of Statistics to remind us that where other people are concerned everything, and I do mean everything, is up for grabs, while in our own castle everything should be kept sub rosa. As ever hypocrisy knows no bounds.

The ‘boy wonder’ and co-founder of the most prolific social networking site discovered this when his brain child ran amuck, making public his most private photos. He may bleat that privacy is no longer a social norm, but the combined weight of all his programmers labored ceaselessly to tighten the privacy settings as a result. Unfortunately all the Kings horses and all the Kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

What this means for you and me, who have not yet had our 15 minutes of fame, is that we still have something of a choice. It is a choice that happens every time we pick a pervasive news feed from an article of genuine interest. It is a choice that happens when we insist every aspect of Nicole Kidman’s life be made public (after all she wanted to be famous) rather than simply enjoying the films she makes. It is a choice that happens when we hold up our friends to ridicule, but become angry and bitter when they do the same to us.

In short we are standing on the edge of a precipice. The new connectivity of the world is a glory to behold. The channels, one of which I am exploiting right now, allow us to be more than another pebble on the beach. They give us an opportunity to matter, not just to our family and friends but to the wider world. A world in which we, more than ever, struggle to find meaning.

Let us give to others what we crave for ourselves. The right to privacy while granting the right to a voice. If people have something interesting and relevant that they want to contribute, let them do so on their terms, have their 15 minutes the way they would like to have it. After all it is what you will want when you get your moment in the sun.

If we can’t create a society which not only allows a private and public life but encourages it, then stop the world because I want to get off.

Muse & Reason from the keyboard of Robert Winter